The Norwegian Nobel Committee [official website] awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize [press release; video] on Friday to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman for their efforts in promoting women's rights. Sirleaf, known as the "Iron Lady," is the president of Liberia [official profile] and the first woman elected to head of state in Africa [BBC profile]. Gbowee [Hunt Alternatives Fund backgrounder] is a founder and the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa [advocacy website] and is credited with organizing a peace movement [My Hero backgrounder] which eventually ended the Second Liberian Civil War [Global Security backgrounder]. Karman, the first Arab woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize [AP report], is a Yemeni activist [TIME backgrounder] and chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains [advocacy website]. The Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Thorbjorn Jagland, stated that the purpose of giving the award to the three women's rights activists [video] was to bring more attention to violence against women and to encourage women to have a greater role in "peace processes and peace building." He further stated that this was intended to be a "strong signal to the Arab world."
Despite her work in the area of women's rights, Sirleaf has become a controversial figure in African politics. Unemployment in Liberia is still at 80 percent [Al Jazeera report], and political opponents have accused her of using government money to fund her campaign, which she denies. Further, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Libera [official website] recommended in 2009 that Sirleaf be subject to sanctions and a 30-year ban on holding public office [JURIST report] for providing financial support to former Liberian president Charles Taylor [BBS profile]. Sirleaf was one of 50 individuals named in the report. Jagland stated that Karman was awarded one-third of the prize in order to associate some of the money with the uprisings sweeping through the Arab world, called the Arab Spring. Karman strongly opposes Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh [official website, in Arabic; JURIST news archive], but has controversial ties to Islah [Project Yemen backgrounder], a party whose chief member is Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, a former adviser to Osama bin-Laden [JURIST news archive].